I intend to finish my series about India, but this needs to get written first……..
It was sometime in November, 2010, and I was reading the posts on the Nefesh B’Nefesh e-mail group (something I no longer do). There was one that I had to show to Barbara. “Don’t answer it!” was her response. We agreed I wouldn’t, at least long enough to see if the guy would post it again. But one week later, sure enough, the exact same post appeared, and I didn’t need to read between the lines to understand how frantic he must have been.
“I am looking for an animal lover who treats their pets like they are their children to help me out finding them a new home.” And then: “I am leaving in the last week of November for England for emergency medical treatment for a lung condition that needs constantly monitoring.” He didn’t know how long he would need to be away, but he needed someone to take care of his two cats during that indeterminate time. To “sweeten the deal,” he provided a link to a YouTube video he had made several months before starring his two beauties. (I just checked, and, believe or not, it’s still up!) After explaining how wonderful his cats were: “They are simply gorgeous, loving and super intelligent and all they want to do is curl up in your lap and purr” he ended – in case you still hadn’t got the drift – “I would be devastated if I had to put them into a cramped animal shelter.” “Devastated.” So, with Barbara’s consent I e-mailed him back, explaining that we had recently “lost” our cat, Mimi (a very difficult animal!), and we weren’t really in the market yet for a new cat or cats, but if he couldn’t find anybody else……….
Anybody else???!!!!! As if people were crawling out of the woodwork to adopt two adult cats! No, we were it – plain and simple.
After an exchange of e-mails, Barbara and I took the required number of buses out to Emek Refayim to meet James (or Dovey, as his friends called him) and his two cats, and to hear Dovey’s hear-wrenching story, which went as follows.
He was living and working in The States, fit as a fiddle, climbing mountains to keep in shape, when he got sick. He had developed/contracted (?) an auto-immune condition that began attacking his lungs.
So here he was, five years later (now thirty-seven years old), in Jerusalem, where his parents lived, overweight, needing an oxygen tank to breathe. His wife had left him, and all he had in this world that he cared about were these two cats. He was scheduled to fly to England for medical treatment unavailable in The Land, and he had to, HAD TO find someone to take care of his animals. His parents had reluctantly agreed to keep his pampered pets on their balcony, but Dovey knew that wasn’t going to work.
And then we arrived at his door, obviously felinophiles, and maybe, just maybe his prayers had been answered. So we went up to the second floor of his duplex apartment to “meet” Cookie and Moby, who were hiding under a blanket on his bed. We had come, expecting to agree to take them. If nothing else, we would be doing Dovey ONE H-U-G-E FAVOR. He could leave for England without being devastated, with one heavy weight taken off his shoulders, knowing that his beloved animals would be well cared for.
The long and short of it was that we got an animal loving friend with a car to drive us a few days later to Emek Refayim. We chatted with Dovey for a short while, and then he asked us to take the animals and leave – right then and there. We understood. His whole life was being upended, and he needed to be alone. We left, Moby in one cat carrier, Cookie in the other. All the way back to Ma’ale Adumim, we could hear both of them howling at the top of their lungs. We were getting our first experience with the wail of the Tonkinese cat, sounds we would hear aplenty in the coming years!
We kept in touch with Dovey for the next six or seven months; we would e-mail him and he would either e-mail or phone us from wherever he was in England. Early on, Barbara made her great comment: “Dovey, you didn’t tell us where the mute button is.” He immediately understood that Barbara had to be referring to Cookie, whose “woooww” meant that she was awake. For better or worse, there does not seem to be a mute button as standard equipment on this model cat.
At first, Dovey wanted to be reassured that, should he return to The Land, we would give him back his cats. He seemed to be much improved physically and, as a British citizen, he was getting a very handsome package of disability benefits. Then he mentioned that he had gotten a dog; then some Tonkinese kittens from the same breeder from whom he had originally obtained Cookie and Moby (before he moved to The States) – with the understanding that if Dovey got sick again, the breeder would take back them back. We sort of understood that Dovey wasn’t going to be arriving at our doorstep any time in the foreseeable future to whisk away two Tonkinese beauties. Then one day, he made it official. They were ours to keep! We knew that, and just as important, Cookie and Moby knew that too.
In the late summer (we’re now in 2011), it occurred to Barbara that we had not heard from Dovey in a while, and he had not responded to any of her recent e-mails. Barbara finally remembered that she had a phone number for Dovey’s parents in Jerusalem, which she called. It was then that we received the sad news that Dovey had died a month or so before. Baruch Dayan Emet.
When we got Cookie and Moby home, we opened the carrying cases next to the pre-filled litter box (Doesn’t everyone have a cat-sized litter box in reserve?) so that they would know where it was. Then the two of them disappeared – as we expected. They had hightailed it into Natania’s room and found a convenient hiding place under the blanket on her bed. You could lift the blanket and see two pairs of eyes looking back at you. I remember all of this as if it happened yesterday.
After a few days of patient coaxing, both cats did emerge from their hiding places and began acting as if they belonged in our apartment. We could finally get a good look at what we had acquired. There was Moby, a long, brown, muscular, regal cat. And there was Cookie (so named because she looked like a chocolate chip cookie when she was little), the little sister, whom we realized was the more gregarious of the two. We knew very little about Tonkinese cats, except that the breed is relatively new, originally a cross between a Siamese and a Burmese cat. What nobody told us, and we didn’t read anywhere, was that these cats would rapidly pick a favorite person. Moby picked Barbara. Whenever she came home, Moby would descend the stairs, howling for her to pick him up and then lie down on the couch so he could curl up in her lap. Moby would sit in her office, in front of her computer. He would sleep under the covers on her side of the bed.
Likewise, Cookie was my cat. Over the years, we developed our own unique method of inter-species communication, sometimes vocal (Cookie, are you hungry? Wooww.), sometimes physical, and occasionally time-oriented. For example:
Until Barbara or I got up in the morning, neither cat would stir or make a sound. However, once one of us got out of bed, that was the cue. Both cats would spring into action, pacing the floor nervously, howling for their breakfast – as if they hadn’t eaten for weeks! After taking second and third helpings of her morning meal, Cookie would find her place at the foot of Barbara’s bed so that Barbara or I could brush her. (This seemed to be the only time Cookie had available for this daily ritual.) Many a lesser cat would have understood the importance of joining its human mid-day at the computer, but only a cat with Cookie’s perceptiveness would realize the loneliness of a man sitting by himself on the throne in the small room – and would quietly open the door and jump into his lap to keep him company.
Were I to delay my arrival upstairs for bedtime beyond a reasonable time, there would be Cookie waiting for me, awaiting instructions as to which side of the bed she was supposed to occupy that night. Then she would decide whether to burrow under the blanket, curl up in the crook of my arm, or go for broke and hog the pillow.
There was only one thing wrong with the Cookie model: a previously undetected ailment that would eventually prove fatal. Starting in 2012, something began to bother her: excessive up-chucking, prolonged coughing spells, and dramatic loss of appetite. Donny the vet was not certain what was wrong with her, but he suggested periodic cortisone shots (something he would not have recommended for a younger cat). Each time, the treatment seemed to work, and Cookie would dramatically improve. Two years ago, to try and get to the cause of her ailments, Barbara (our Chief Medical Officer) and Natania took Cookie to a specialist in Rehovot, who took an ultra-sound and a biopsy. It seemed that there was a blockage in her bile duct, but nothing conclusive. So we all went about our business, day by day.
Until this April, when things began going down hill rapidly. Before Pesach, we noticed that Cookie seemed to be losing more weight (we’re talking about a three kilo cat). So Donnie the vet took some blood samples and sent away for a complete analysis. Nothing wrong; there are middle-aged guys who would kill for such results. But she was still losing weight. So after Pesach, she got another cortisone shot. This time, nothing. Her appetite did not increase and she kept losing weight.
What next? Last Wed., we brought her back to Donnie the vet, who was at his office with a colleague. They took an x-ray, then another, then another. They enlarged the x-rays; they increased the contrast; they compared the new ones with previous sets and the previous sets with the new ones. Maybe her intestinal lining was thickening, and that was the problem? Send the x-rays, all her files to the expert in Rehovot; maybe he’ll come up with something.
Meanwhile, give Cookie massive injections of antibiotics, pain killers, saline solutions to re-hydrate her. That should work! Oh, and hand feed her, even force feed her with the prescription food.
I don’t know about Cookie, but I left the vet’s office that evening feeling somewhat hopeful. Did I expect a miracle? No. But whatever additional quality time we could give her…… All we could do is wait and see. We got word the next day that the expert in Rehovot still couldn’t see anything specifically wrong with her from the x-rays. Did we want to bring her back to Rehovot for another ultrasound, for another biopsy? Did we want to consider exploratory surgery?
I said that the panoply of injections the vet gave Cookie should have worked, but, by now, you’ve probably figured out that it didn’t. Cookie would eat – if Barbara held her still, opened her mouth, and gave her a fingerful at a time. That’s no way to live. Even if somebody figured out what was wrong, would it have been something that could be treated? That’s beyond wishful thinking. There was only one thing to do: what we were dreading. As my arch-nemesis, Major Bummer, would have put it, “A result devoutly not to be wished.”
So we are left with one cat. We humans understand what has happened, but poor Moby has no idea where his sister – with whom he had been inseparable for thirteen years – has gone. His wandering about the apartment, howling and looking for her, has not made it any easier for us. (BTW, he has also lost weight, and we’re scheduling blood work for him as well.)
As any pet owner can tell you, what makes the loss of an animal especially difficult is that most people don’t get it when you tell them. The response might be, “It’s only a dog.” “It’s only a cat.” Or they look at you with a blank expression. It’s as if you told someone that you were feeling sad because you stubbed your toe yesterday. To such a person I might mention that for five and a half years, Cookie and I spent a lot of quality time together, more than most people get to do. That Cookie, like many household pets, offered unconditional love to anyone who was astute enough to accept it – more than I would expect from the random people I meet. So if you don’t understand, Mr. Random Person , it’s your loss. I wouldn’t really say that. I would think it, but I wouldn’t say it.